NAIROBI, Kenya, May 21- The spotlight will be on Harambee Stars head coach Francis Kimanzi on Tuesday when he names the side that plays The Malawi Flames in their first 2014 World Cup qualifier on June 2 at the Moi International Sports Centre Kasarani.
Kimanzi, who was reinstated to the post in the immediate aftermath of the election of Sam Nyamweya at the helm of Football Kenya Federation (FKF), is under pressure to weave the magic that brought Stars to within six matches of the 2010 World Cup before he was unceremoniously fired in early 2009.
Then, Stars sailed to the third round of CAF qualification after finishing second to Guinea in Group 2 with three wins, a draw and two loses before the team won one and lost five of their games in the final phase under his successor, the German national Antoine Hey.
In his opening couple of games in charge, Kimanzi led the side to a 7-0 aggregate victory against the hapless Seychelles in the 2014 World Cup pre-qualifiers landing them in Group F alongside Nigeria, Namibia and The Flames.
“I am still in the process of building the team. It is a step by step process and the Cecafa tournament will give me a chance to test my players, especially the local ones”, Kimanzi said after the Islanders were dispensed with in November last year.
However, the regional competition exposed the enormity of the task of re-constructing the side after Kenya crashed out of the group phase after losing 2-0 to Malawi, beating Ethiopia by a similar margin before Sudan sent them home courtesy of a 1-0 beating.
Kimanzi blamed the two weeks he had to prepare the team as the reason for the dismal performance despite the fact that he had nine Kenyan Premier League (KPL) awards recipients in the squad including Golden Boot winner, Stephen Waruru who fired blanks.
“Preparation is key since the players took part in a league that finished recently and we didn’t have enough time to assemble the team.
“We were not ready to front a challenge in this tournament since even the performance in our local league is wanting,” lamented the head coach after the Tanzania debacle.
Having witnessed first hand the enormity of the task facing him, particularly the bitter indictment of locally based players, Kimanzi has to contend with the prospect of taking on Malawi without the core of his team.
French Ligue 1 AJ Auxerre forward, Stars captain and leading scorer, Dennis Oliech and first choice custodian, Arnold Origi have made public their international retirement while Italian based Parma AC midfielder, McDonald Mariga is out with injury marking the trio that has been the bedrock of the team in recent times.
Back home, the resurgent AFC Leopards striker, Allan Wanga who was netting for fun, including the belter that won Kenya their home match against Togo 2-1 in their 2013 Africa Nations Cup knock-out first leg 2-1 is also out injured.
With intense behind-the-stage deliberations to have the skipper and Origi retract their decision to quit the side going on, the head coach and FKF delayed the announcement of the team until the last possible moment.
When quizzed by reporters on Saturday, Nyamweya sought to dismiss the growing fears that Stars will take on The Flames with Mariga’s younger brother and Scottish league titleholder, Victor Mugubi as the only high profile foreign based professional.
Of most concern is who would likely fill the boots of Oliech should the AJ Auxerre forward who has enjoyed a renaissance campaign with the relegated outfit, netting 10 and providing six assists in 32 Ligue 1 matches this season should he forge ahead and turn his back to the team he has scored 31 goals since he debuted in 2002.
Kimanzi made late call-ups for Leopards forward Victor Ochieng to replace his teammate Wanga and Sofapaka’s Bob Mugalia who has had a rather slow season since returning from a long injury lay-off to bolster his options upfront.
Curiously, despite top-scoring in the league so far with 12, veteran striker, John Baraza, of Sofapaka has not been given a look in by Kimanzi.
The tactician may have to adopt a playing format that will see him rely on the services of the several midfielders who have been impressive so far in the domestic league.
These are Humphrey Meino (Sofapaka), Rama Salim (Gor Mahia), Kepha Aswani (Thika United) and Paul Kiongera (KCB).
Aswani has been quite influential for his side currently fourth on the log by scoring 10 goals while Salim who joined Gor at the start of the season from the relegated Congo United has six to his name.
Meino who is regarded highly for his ball control and composure and has also scored thrice thus far in the KPL.
Kiongera who sunk a hat trick against Oserian last month was a late inclusion into the squad taking the place of former Mathare United’s midfielder Kevin Kimani who flew out to Germany for trials.
Defenders likely to make the final team are Ulinzi Stars Mulinge Ndeto, Brain Mandela (Tusker), James Situma (Sofapaka) and the deputy skipper Pascal Ochieng.
Title holders Tusker custodian Boniface Olouch is likely to be chosen ahead of Ingwe’s Patrick Matasi should Origi decline the call.
Leopards’ record signing defender Eric Masika and league table-toppers Sofapaka keeper Duncan Ochieng were the surprise exclusion while Mathare’s midfielder Dennis Nzomo who is yet to make a competitive start got his first.
Goalkeepers: Boniface Oluoch (Tusker), Patrick Matasi (AFC Leopards)
Defenders: Mulinge Ndetto (Ulinzi Stars), Brian Mandela, Joackins Atudo, Joseph Shikokoti (Tusker), Pascal Ochieng’ (Rangers), Dennis Odhiambo (Thika), James Situma (Sofapaka)
Midfielders: Humphrey Mieno, (Sofapaka), Collins Okoth, Kelvin Ochieng’, Rama Salim (Gor Mahia), Jamal Mohamed (Mathare), Paul Were, Peter Opiyo (Tusker), Kepha Aswani, Clifton Miheso (Thika), Bernard Mang’oli (AFC Leopards), Paul Mungai (KCB)
Strikers: Bob Mugalia (Sofapaka), Victor Ochieng (AFC Leopards)